When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa


Warsaw looked curiously unfamiliar, even our own house—a large modern building with one apartment kept always ready for our occupancy. Ah! That was a pleasure to come into our own home with actual comforts and feel we might get things together once more, just a week from our forlorn arrival in Vilno when I did not know where my husband was.

We bought supplies immediately, and as there were two servants in the apartment, soon had quite a household again. Such a dragging in of all sorts of supplies!

Sunday we went to the little English chapel; there were a few people there. It was wonderfully sweet to hear the familiar hymns. The chaplain and his wife were old acquaintances of mine—she and their children were in England.

Monday we bought supplies. I hunted up a former nurse, who had married; finding her alone with her old mother-in-law to support, her husband having been called to service. Poor thing, in such circumstances, expecting a child—she was much changed from our pretty Cracow peasant girl in her bright costume. Her savings had disappeared, and poor Marysia was not even assured from want.

That night we went to a theatrical performance—what—I have forgotten. Most things seem photographed on my mind, but only the circumstance remains in this instance.

Tuesday my husband got a letter from his father and mother begging him to come to Lublin, the family home. Of course he had to go, but I could not leave the children. That day, full of rumors and uncertainty, is also a memory, which will always remain.

Wednesday, too, Wednesday night about eleven my husband returned to us. He had but greeted his parents, spent two short hours with the dear old people, and, filled with disquietude over the rumors flying about, had returned to us. Well that he did, for the next morning before day had fully dawned the Zeppelins visited us! Warsaw was bombarded!

Such explosions—and the return shots—people screaming—the town was alive in a moment and the exodus began. Our servants came rushing in demanding to go farther away. We still thought it was not necessary, especially as there was a committee meeting called for that day, but about noon there was some more bombarding—the Zeppelins doing greater damage. A hospital was struck and people were killed in the streets.

That afternoon, the chaplain from the English chapel called to bid us good-bye. He was off to Moscow. All were going. He offered to get us seats in the special train which was leaving. We declined, thinking it was not necessary, but toward night the news grew worse. The army of the enemy was approaching Warsaw. A battle was inevitable. Troops and artillery wagons filled the streets of the city.

Thursday night we did not go to bed because we went to see relatives and could not get back until the early morning hours, when we immediately made plans to get away from Warsaw on Saturday morning.

On Friday, we were again favored with the Zeppelins. That death dropping from the heavens—like rain on the just and the unjust is one of the few things I could not get used to. It always left me weak and trembling and hugging my babies, hoping that if death came to us we should all go together. That day we turned over the new supplies to our poor Marysia, telling her to fetch her mother-in-law and live in our apartment. Poor soul—what has happened to her by now?

A visit to the station revealed an awful state of affairs. People mad with fear, camping about in the hopes of securing a place on the train. The poor little children crying from hunger—women with newly-born infants—all struggling to get something—they knew not what. Food was scarce in Warsaw and at the station there was not an atom. Where the buffet had been, was crushed full of humanity—or what had been humanity before fear had taken possession of it.

We could do nothing to help. Our own desire was also to get away—away from the fear—where we might rest.

We managed to work our way to the ticket office, only to find the tickets would not be sold until seven in the morning! No amount of persuasion helped. I took my place there at the ticket office so we should at least be first in the morning, while my husband went back to the apartment to tell our governess, Panna Jadwiga, to have all ready when we came in the morning.

[Illustration] from Prussians Came to Poland by L. DeGozdawa


In those four hours of waiting (until two o'clock Saturday morning) for my husband to return, what things I saw—what essence of misery! We had a red-capped porter, but he told us some one must be with him. My husband brought a little food, but how could one eat with those starving creatures about? My husband and the man took turns standing at the window. Once a crowd pushing to get in the station hurt an enceinte woman. Through the fright and pressure she gave birth to her child—a little lifeless mite. We managed to get her through to where the Red Cross train was leaving. They took her on, with her dead baby wrapped in her petticoat—to go where? To do what when she got there? The pitiful circumstance raised hardly a ripple on that crowd. People at such times take everything as a matter of course.

At six, I went to fetch the children, not even conscious of being tired. They were just eating breakfast, under protest. How I dreaded taking them into that human vortex, but I had to be glad we could get away, and, in a few minutes, I had completed our arrangements, saying goodbye to that homelike apartment.

Once more we were on the road, bag and baggage, off for Vitebsk, where we had no house of our own to walk into. All in Warsaw seemed going in one direction, to the Petrogradski station, one of those spots which is a long distance from every place.

On the bridge over the Vistula, we were kept waiting some time by passing troops and forage wagons, and the sound of them brought back Suwalki forcibly to mind. Eventually we reached our destination. We started to literally break our way through to the gate where my husband was waiting, Panna Jadwiga, the cook, and the maid, each carrying a child in her arms, with two men laden with luggage following. We had to climb over many who had finally succumbed to the rigors of the night. The crowd was apathetic. Our train was possible only for people who could pay first-class fares and place cards besides. When we got near the gates the pressure began and the children cried until they were carried shoulder high. At last the gates were opened, and we got to our places without further discomfort, only we were alone with the children, the servants being in the second car. Just one week before we had arrived in Warsaw from Vilno—and now—already on our way farther. How much had happened in that short week!

I began to feel like the Wandering Jew; and Jews there were in that train, the first I ever saw travel on a Saturday in Poland.